A dedicated customer support employee left the company last month to pursue a career in recruiting and HR. I was surprised that she didn’t think to ask if there were internal positions that could give her a similar opportunity, since we’re a recruiting company ourselves.
I reached out to her thinking she might have been unhappy and that prompted her to leave. As it turned out, she was very happy at Ivy Exec — she just never thought a similar opportunity existed at the company.
We shared an “Ah ha!” moment when we realized we’d both made a mistake: she hadn’t shared her career aspirations with us, and we hadn’t made it clear enough that it’s OK to have a two way dialog about career goals. This turn of events made me reflect on how we can communicate better to encourage employees to be more open about their professional goals.
As a manager you need to encourage an ongoing, two way dialog that’s based on trust – about assignments and about deliverables, of course – but beyond that, about an employee’s career goals and aspirations.
If, as a manager, you don’t know how an employee would like to grow professionally, you can’t tailor opportunities to meet their needs, and you risk losing them.
So how do you build “trust”? Especially if employees are remotely located, possibly from different cultures, and the primary relationship is “virtual” at best….
1) Communicate, communicate, communicate: The funny thing about communication is that it’s as much about the words you say, as it is about the tone of your voice combined with eye contact, hand gestures, body positioning, and even touch (that proverbial “pat on the back”.)
In a paper by Dr. Edward Wertheim of Northeastern University, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, he found that a large percentage of the meaning we derive from communication (some studies suggest over 90%) is derived from the non-verbal cues the other person gives. So, if you only meet “virtually” with your team, much of your message and their response to it may be lost.
Face time, however scarce, is an immensely important factor in communicating well and establishing trust. If you are managing employees in remote locations, try to meet with them in person on a regular basis – maybe not monthly — but at least 2 to 3 times per year.
2) Coach COH -6.67% rather than manage: Try to balance giving your team members the authority, the tools and the space they need to do their jobs – empowering them – and staying checked-in as they execute their responsibilities. Be accessible for, and open to, problem solving – whether it’s brainstorming next steps or fighting fires. And, be accessible personally – taking a genuine interest in employees as individuals, as people.
3) Establish clear performance metrics and make employees accountable for delivering: Establish well defined metrics for evaluating an employee’s contribution to achieving business goals. Expect and demand good work. Review performance versus those metrics on a regular basis. Acknowledge good work when it’s delivered. Discuss work that missed the mark and jointly determine how to avoid a repeat performance in the next round.
4) Leverage performance reviews to gain insights into employee’ goals and aspirations: As your company grows and matures, and more infrastructure is formalized, performance reviews can be opportunities to discuss employees’ career goals, and obtain input for creating stretch opportunities for them — both within their current roles and in new roles.
5) Create growth opportunities: When hiring, look inside first. Make it a priority to scan the internal environment first to see if there are existing employees who could stretch into the new position…growing to the next level. Make sure employees are aware of internal openings and have a chance to apply for them if they’re interested.
6) Underscore positive feedback with something tangible: Beyond salary/bonus/equity, think about “rewarding” employees for truly superior performance — How about dinner on the company as a spot award? Or, recognizing employees’ start-date anniversaries? Or, closing the office early before a holiday to allow the team to get a jump on the holiday? Or, awarding a personal day after completion of a ‘hairy-scary’ assignment?
At the end of the day – words are just words. While feedback is important, people also need to feel appreciated in a tangible way. The return in terms of employee loyalty and commitment will far outweigh the financial cost of these “spot” awards over the long run.
If you systematically follow these steps, you will be able to retain good employees. Or, at least when good employees decide to leave, they will leave knowing the career growth options available to them at your company.
Elena Bajic FORBES